vintage  photo of woman and antiques

Lessons from my Late Great Grandmother

Juanita Ann Hale, my Great Grandmother, passed earlier this March, but our family was unable to celebrate her life until August due to COVID-19. She hated being called Juanita, so I’ll call her Ann in the rest of the article so that she won't scold me from the Great Beyond. She was born in 1932 and grew up on the plains of Colorado. Her father was a ranch hand who had built a small farm with her mother, a young and determined Choctaw woman. On the farm, Ann's mother welcomed members of her tribe that worked alongside her spouse and fed them dinner each week. Ann grew up listening to their stories and learning how to cook with her mother. Hard work and hospitality were the values that drove her life and shaped her legacy. I know that if I were to make Ann proud, it would be by welcoming others into my life and loving them openly, the way she did all of us. Here are some of the other lessons I’ve learned from Ann, as well as some of the most iconic photographs I’ve ever seen.

  1. 1. Jewelry can never be too gaudy.

    vintage  photo of woman and antiques

    After Ann passed, my cousins, aunts, great aunts, and my grandmother went through her jewelry. I wouldn’t be surprised if she had nearly 2,000 pieces of jewelry, ranging from clip on earrings to zebra print bangles. Of course, most of it is costume jewelry, but her dedication to style and fashion show through her collection. I was able to pick my favorite pieces and found that we had a lot in common when it comes to accessories. I love having jewelry that is as spunky and sassy as she was.

  2. 2. Red, black, and leopard print should be worn liberally.

    vintage photo of woman's hands and antiques

    At her memorial, we were asked to wear red, black, or leopard print. We even made matching leopard print masks to hand out at the service. The thing I remember most about Ann was her perfectly manicured nails--always red, sharp, and long. One time, I asked her to paint my nails for my going away party before we moved when I was twelve years old. I was dead set on getting my first kiss that night with my crush. When I told her this, she replied, "I have just the color in mind" and produced the most flamboyant pink nail polish I had ever seen. After she was done, I could have directed traffic with my nails. I didn't get my kiss, but I knew Ann would always do her best to inspire me and fill me with confidence.

  3. 3. Homemade biscuits and gravy is the fastest way to a man’s heart.

    vintage photo of woman

    My great grandmother’s recipe is still used in my house every Saturday morning. Ann taught the recipe to my mom right after she married my dad. He was beyond elated when he came home to his new wife and favorite homecooked meal on the table. When my brother’s friends sleepover they always politely request them for breakfast. I’ve seen the feral glint in their eyes when my mom promises to whip up the hearty gravy just for them. Unfortunately, I've only dated vegans up to this point and the sausage-based gravy has never been an option for a romantic meal. Sorry, Ann!

  4. 4. Always make each person you talk to feel as if they’re your favorite.

    vintage photo of woman with antiques

    At her memorial, each speaker mentioned that they were Ann’s favorite. She had a special way of making you feel as if no one else existed when you talked to her. She would always say, "Bless your heart, you're so cute!" and would automatically win the heart of whoever she ran across. Deciding who was actually Ann’s favorite family member is still a heavily debated topic at family reunions (but for the record, it was definitely my dad).

  5. 5. Have lots of sex when your marriage becomes stressful.

    vintage photograph of woman and husband

    This piece of advice was given to my mother during a particularly difficult stretch of her marriage. My dad was working a lot and they were both concerned about money. With Ann being the righteous Christian woman she was, I never expected her to say that in a million years. However, this small comment really shows how fun-loving and real she was with those she loved. She recognized that while counseling or consulting the Bible may help, blowing off steam and having fun can really bring life back into a struggling marriage. Her marriage lasted nearly 71 years. Rarely did my great grandfather pass her in the house without giving her a little (consensual) pat on her behind. On the back of this photograph she wrote, "Jerk don't know one end from the other". My great grandfather still wears something red every day to remember her.

  6. 6. Pretty is as pretty does.

    vintage  photo of woman and antiques

    Taking beauty advice from a woman who was often mistaken for Elizabeth Taylor wasn’t easy. She was a natural beauty, with stunning grey eyes, high cheekbones, and rich black hair that framed the masterpiece that was her face. Her makeup was always perfect, especially as she grew older. Every outfit was paired with a red lip and pink blush. I surely am no exception to applying blush quite heavy-handedly, like the rest of her daughters and granddaughters do. Yet, she firmly believed that a person was only as beautiful as they were on the inside. It’s a notion that has become quite a cliche, but rings true. Her beauty captivated people at first glance, but her kindness and unselfish love put everyone she met under her spell.

I didn’t know Ann Hale as much as I would have liked to. I’m lucky to share my middle name with her, as well as my obsession with the color red. I keep many of her old polaroids on my wall to inspire me to be as courageous, loving, and honest as she was. Many of Ann’s belongings are also included in the photographs above. They have made me feel so much closer to Ann and have helped me understand her as a woman, not just my great grandmother. She was neither rich nor famous, but lived her life as if she was. Ann was glamorous, with a winning smile and clothes that never missed. Yet she kept herself humble, knowing that relationships and love were the things that matter most in life. Indeed, that is how she is remembered and fiercely loved today.